There is a revolution taking place. You can’t miss it, really. It’s rising up all around us—in the way books are published, in how they find their audience, and how authors interact with their readers.
The thing about revolutions is that they are both exciting and scary. People and systems are vulnerable during revolutions when all that change and upheaval is taking place.
But we on the front lines, or even those of us just hanging out on the sidelines with a vested interest, can be a part of it in our own small way and try to shape this revolution.
The kind of publishing world I hope for is one that will embrace all the different ways books can find their audience; self publishing, traditional publishing, indie publishing, building an online platform, having no platform at all and still making the NYT bestseller list. I want them all. I’m greedy that way because I truly believe that the more avenues to success there are, the better for ALL writers (not to mention readers!)
To me, the most exciting thing about the current revolution is that there are now more than ever before, a huge variety of ways a writer can find success and readers can find books. The really cool part? They don’t all have to be the same. They can be based on our own individual strengths and weaknesses.
Because here’s the thing. There is no one right way to success. There are many, many paths and trails we can take to get there. Anyone who says otherwise is suffering from a wee bout of tunnel vision.
More than ever, today’s writers are pressured to build a platform, collect fans, develop a following, Tweet, blog, (no wait—blogging’s dead!) and write seven books a year. Most of us are lucky to manage one or two of those things, let alone all.
And to say you have to do that to be successful is simply not true, and it’s a disservice to writers to claim that it is. A quick peek at last month’s NYT bestseller lists show just how many diverse paths to success* there are:
Kristen Cashore – The only internet presence she has is a blog she updates every week or two, a blog that does not have a comment function, I might add. (She recently started up a twitter feed to broadcast her new blog posts, but she does not interact there at all.) Her third book, BITTERBLUE, just came out after a three year wait between her last book, but she still hit the NYT list.
John Green – One of the social media pioneers with his Nerdfighters and Vlog brothers, but also? A truly amazing author of exceptional skill.
Ransom Riggs – MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN has been on the bestseller list for 34 weeks, and I think its safe to say his book was a sleeper hit from a new and relatively small publisher
Veronica Roth – has two bestseller slots with her debut YA DIVERGENT and her follow up INSURGENT.**
E. L. James whose online based fan fiction propelled her to a whopping three slots on the bestseller list.
Suzanne Collins – the hermit-like author of The Hunger Games who has a very outdated website, no twitter or Facebook page and doesn’t even blog! Or have a FB page or Twitter account.
The truth is, big success is rare, no matter HOW you publish or HOW you connect with your audience. The Amanda Hockings of this world are as few and far between as the Stephanie Meyers. But the good news is that some traditionally published mid list authors AND some self published authors are able to make a decent living.
It’s funny, because for the most part advice about writing processes has moved away from the You Must Do This school of advice and acknowledges that there is a huge variety of processes out there, each one of them valid as long as you are producing words. We recognize that there are outliners, and plotters, and pantsers, and fly-into-the-mist-ers, and that they all work.
But when it comes to marketing and promoting, it seems we’ve taken one paradigm—the old school “traditional publisher buys your book, publisher markets your book, you sink or swim on their efforts”—and are now insisting that everyone must follow the new paradigm—where we are all platform building, paradigm shifting, self publishing, networking machines. People are drawing lines in the sand and creating false dichotomies where there don’t really need to be any. These kinds of divides are exhausting and suck a lot of creative energy out of the room. What if we all took those chips off our shoulders? Imagine what a mammoth, inclusive platform we could build with just those alone?
A true revolution, the sort I can get excited about, is the kind where we don’t all shift from one single choice to another, but where we embrace all available options, and people can choose the solutions that best fit their personalities, their career plans, and reading audience.
That’s why even though I am not pursuing self publishing right now, I am wildly excited for all the opportunities that have opened up and I cheer for each self-published author’s success.
The same for less traditional paths to a wide readership. Every time someone hits big sales numbers—however they get there—I am thrilled for them. A rising tide floats all boats and every time lots of readers get excited about any book, writers win.
I applaud the innovations and trail blazing. We need those, in all area of society and culture and the arts.
But here’s the downside to the revolution—the loud voices proclaiming that others too have to do it that way or risk being left behind, being a luddite, or selling out to the man.
Here’s an important tip: You will not get farther along on your path by disparaging the path others have chosen. I promise. That will not provide the mysterious rocket fuel you need to finish first. Or best. Or whatever your goal may be.
So traditionalists, don’t fear change and don’t be threatened by the trail blazers. You never know where your writing path will take you and you may very well need to use the trail that they have blazed at some point in your career.
And trail blazers? Don’t disparage traditionalists because the haven’t jumped on your bandwagon yet. You don’t know what their personal publishing goals, comfort zone, skill set, or audience is. Besides, you never know where your writing path will take you. In such a fluid industry, it behooves no one to be rigid.
Yes social media can rock the book sales, but so can being hermit-like and writing books that readers clamor for. Or simply taking that time and writing more books. Yes, some writers can make better money and reach more readers through self publishing, but not all writers who self publish reach more readers or make more money than traditionally published authors.
Writers need to be well informed, understand the options, and make clear-eyed choices. And we need to be very, very wary of anyone who tells us that we simply MUST do such and such to be successful in today’s publishing climate.
So when you hear of someone reaching success through a method that feels threatening to you or way outside your comfort zone, or even old fashioned or outré, remind yourself that doesn’t have to be your path. Then, and this is the really critical part, take a moment to be genuinely happy for them. They have just grabbed the brass ring and that is a good, good thing. Even if it is not the path we ourselves intend to take to get there.
* (Since I write YA, I tend to have more awareness with that genre than others.)
** (I’m 90% sure she didn’t have a huge twitter or FB following back when she got her publishing deal but my memory is fried right now so feel free to correct me if I’m wrong.)